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Water is Life: Ola I Ka Wai

Part of "What is Kuleana Homesteading?"

     In ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i, the mother tongue of these islands, wai is water, waiwai means values or wealth, and kānāwai is the law. It is no coincidence that, in an island community like ours, both wealth and the law were and continue to be defined by fresh water. 

            -from Ola I Ka Wai, a Legal Primer for Water Use & Management in Hawai‘i


Water is life, a gift given to the people by Kāne, the god of procreation. Kāne is also the provider of freshwater that sustains life. Water is a kinolau, or body form, of Kāne himself. 

Today in Hawai‘i water is a public trust resource protected under the State Constitution and State Water Code.


For many decades Hawaiian communities have come together to make sure that those public trust laws are honored and enforced, and that water once taken by private interests are returned to Hawai‘i's rivers and streams. 

Starting in the 1800's commercial plantations diverted the waters of Hawaiian streams to irrigate their sugar cane and pineapple fields. Diverting those streams severed the ahupua‘a stream flows from mauka to makai. This impacted the Hawaiian farming and fishing communities whose sustenance and ways of life depended on that stream flow. Land and water management practices of plantations replaced the traditional Hawaiian ahupua‘a accountability systems.  

Today, Hawaiian communities are seeking the return of wai back to native streams to restore watershed ecosystems and bring them back to balance. With the return of water, traditional practices of food cultivation by local communities can also be restored as can the physical and spiritual connection between Hawaiians and the land. 

This segment links to firsthand stories that show us that when waters are returned to the rivers and streams, communities and people can thrive. By returning water back into rivers and streams, the ethics of the ahupua‘a (and the worldview that all in nature is connected and interdependent) can be restored. 


The Useful Links start with the story of Kāne produced by Kamehameha Publishing's Kumukahi education project, and contains a video link to a talk story session with Stacy Sproat-Beck of Waipā Foundation on Kaua‘i. The links also include the voices of farmers and communities across Hawai‘i who continue to defend the public trust to Hawai‘i's waters. Also included is the UH Mānoa Richardson School of Law primer Ola I Ka Wai that provides you with the history of the state's water laws and a list of organizations that are helping to defend the public trust to water.  

This segment ends with a link to the video The Rain Follows the Forest that shares the stories of Hawaiians from all walks of life as they describe how water reflects the interdependence of all things and why each of us has the responsibility to protect it for future generations. ​


Spend time with these resources to help ensure that your choices, actions and use of water are grounded in the deeper meanings of Hawaiian wai. 

Useful Links:

This webpage from features a video featuring a talk story session with Stacy Sproat-Beck and the importance of wai. Learn more about the ahupua‘a of Waipā on Kaua‘i and learn more about the story of Kāne. 

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Comprehensive and easy-to-read summaries of Hawaiian water law. Downloadable PDF from UH Manoa William S. Richardson School of Law publication by D. Kapua‘ala Sproat.

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Learn about the struggle for restoration of water into Maui's streams. From Kamakako‘i - The Cutting Edge,

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An inspiring and information-rich article featuring the Hawaiian communities that are protecting Hawai‘i's water for future generations. A resource presented by Earthjustice.

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VIDEO: Edward & Mahealani Wendt on Oiwi TV

Edward Wendt and Mahealani Perez-Wendt devote their efforts to protecting ola i ka wai and ancestral lands on Maui. They show us why protecting the water and passing forward Hawaiian cultural tradition is theirl kuleana.

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Learn about the importance of fresh water in Hawaii with Jason Scott Lee. Video created for Hawai‘i Dept. of Land and Natural Resources. Produced by Cal Hirai. Written and Directed by Matt Yamashita. Edited by Tim Hunnings.

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What is Kuleana Homesteading?

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